Throughout Holy Week, many journalists connected the smoking rubble of Notre Dame to Easter. In a splendid editorial, the National Post observed “The joy the world felt at Notre Dame’s survival… is just a taste of the joy and thankfulness all Christians will know this Holy Week.”
I give these writers, especially in the Post, full credit for their efforts.
But today, fresh images of disaster replace those from Paris. Now our screens and newspapers show us something far worse than the Notre Dame fire—churches in Sri Lanka bombed just as our brothers and sisters gathered to celebrate the Resurrection of the Lord.
This targeted attack on three Catholic churches in three different cities, along with bombs in luxury hotels, has already taken more than 200 lives, with numerous more injured.
All of a sudden, a burned building in Paris seems a weak metaphor for Easter faith.
The deaths of so many Christians this Easter Sunday is far more sobering than Monday’s fire—we’re no longer talking about a church rising symbolically from the ashes, but about people rising from the dead.
The families of those killed in Sri Lanka will surely draw strength from the Resurrection of Christ. They came to church to hear that “God raised him on the third day and allowed him to appear,” as St. Peter preached in the first reading.
They were ready to profess the Creed, in which we proclaim our faith in the resurrection of our own bodies—the belief that we also will rise from our graves on the last day.
These truths are light in darkness, and surely great consolations for those who mourn. But there is more, other consequences of the first Easter morning that are connected not only to times of tragedy but to our whole outlook on life.
The title of a book by Anglican priest Fleming Rutledge captures what we’re dealing with. It’s called The Undoing of Death. A parishioner gave me the book two years ago, and it’s shaped how I look at Easter ever since.
We need such books, because we can’t just listen to this morning’s Scripture readings; we need to unpack them. We don’t just need to believe them, we need to apply them to our individual lives.
That was how Father Giovanni approached Good Friday in his very fine homily. He stressed that no matter what is troubling us, we can take it to the Cross of Christ; we don’t need to bear our crosses alone, because Jesus bore our crosses as he carried his.
While I listened, I thought “he’s talking to me about how I’ve been feeling lately.” Then I talked yesterday to a parishioner who is caring for a sick family member, even though he’s ill himself. He said “that homily spoke right to us and our crosses.” Someone else said she hoped a friend struggling with depression was listening to the homily.
The truth is that the Resurrection is every bit as personal as the Crucifixion. Jesus not only bore our sins, he shared his victory with us—not only in the general resurrection of the dead, still to come, but here and now, in our particular needs and circumstances.
Fleming Rutledge exclaims “Changed! Our sinfulness exchanged for his righteousness, our mortality for his immortality, our sorrow for his joy, our bondage for his freedom, and our deteriorating human body for an altogether transformed one…”
She asks a question that each of us must answer: “Can you imagine anything more wonderful than this?”
And she answers: “On the contrary, we can scarcely begin to imagine it, for it does not come from human imagination but from God. All our sins wiped away, all evil done to death forever, the devil and his hosts destroyed, our loved ones restored to us, all the injustices and wrongs of human history made right in a new heaven and a new earth.” [p. 247]
I confess that I can be a bit black and white about some things. But it does seem to me that you can’t dodge the question this morning. You can, of course, deny the fact of Christ’s Resurrection, although the prophets foretold it, witnesses beheld it, and both Peter and Paul proclaimed it.
We are free women and men, and if we choose not to seek the things that are above, no one can force us. But it ought to be a conscious choice. Given all that’s promised this Easter Day—righteousness, immortality, joy, freedom from bondage, and a transformed body, how can we not at least look for an answer to the question, “Can you imagine anything more wonderful than this?”
Perhaps before now you’ve never thought very much about the consequences of Easter—what Jesus rising from the dead can mean for you personally. Maybe you’re a non-Christian visiting us, or a Catholic who was never given the chance to explore what Easter really meant for you personally.
It’s a bit tough to sort it all out on Easter morning. That’s why we invite you to share Easter with us in a more relaxed setting—but with the energy and excitement that Peter and John and Mary experienced at the tomb of Jesus.
We’re inviting you to attend an Alpha evening here this Thursday, April 25. Alpha begins at 6:30 with dinner followed by a lively film that introduces the big picture of Christian life. No pressure, no preaching.
You can pick up an invitation at the table in the foyer. It comes from a community of friends that doesn’t want to push anything on you, but to help you find the answers to your own questions, and to discover how Easter can be a 24/7, 365-day blessing for you, whatever your particular hopes, fears, or needs may be.
Alpha costs nothing and expects nothing from you. But you can expect a chance to look for answers to your questions, and to the big question of Easter: “Can you imagine anything more wonderful than this?”
This morning, I can’t imagine anything more terrible than sitting in church as hateful terrorists kill or injure those gathered to celebrate God’s love and mercy. But, at the same time, I can’t imagine anything better than the faith that promises hope and healing in this world, and life forever in the next.